Friday, December 13, 2013

The Desolation of Smaug

The quest of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his dwarves to reclaim the lost kingdom of Erebor under the Lonely Mountain continues in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Captured by elves, attacked by orcs, and journeying into the depths of the lost kingdom, the sequel is more successful than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey but still suffers from director Peter Jackson taking his damn sweet time with unnecessary subplots and a host of new characters to introduce.

Of all the new faces in the second of three films needed to adapt a 300-page children's book, Evangeline Lilly stands out. In Tauriel we finally get a prominent female elf who is more warrior than ethereal plot device (Cate BlanchettLiv Tyler). The plot thread of Tauriel forced to balance here duty to her king (Lee Pace) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) against her unexpected feelings for a dwarf (Aidan Turner) is one of the film's most-successful storylines.

Along their 161-minute journey, the motley crew will also time to stop at the home of the shape-shifter Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), and Gandalf, as the wizard is want to do, will abandon the quest for one of his own in investigating the rise of the Necromancer and his army of orcs. As with the first film, the cock tease of the Necromancer subplot is far more distracting than interesting as it removes the audience from the storyline we really care about and our (long-awaited) chance to get a good look at the dragon.

The star of the film, although he takes his time to show up, is definitely Smaug (voiced oh so well by Benedict Cumberbatch). The design and CGI animation of Smaug is terrific making him one of the best rendered dragons ever seen on film. And Cumberbatch proves to be inspired casting to breathe life into the egotistical dragon king under the mountain. Given the time it takes for the dwarves to get to the Lonely Mountain it may disappoint, but not surprise, audiences to learn where Peter Jackson decides to end the second film.

The other sequence in the sequel worth mentioning is the dwarves escape from Greenwood involving the immensely enjoyable barrel scene that, aside from Smaug himself, is the gem of the second entry in the trilogy. Although just as ridiculous as the escape sequence from the Goblin kingdom in the first film, this extended sequence is far more entertaining.

I did see the film in 3D but couldn't get a definitive answer on if the version shown to us was the increased 48 frames per second. In the first film I noted how the 3D and increased frame rate didn't always mesh so well, especially during the fast-paced action sequences. I didn't see those problems this time around, so either the filmmakers have improved their technique or the regular frame rate is far preferable. With that said, the 3D is mostly unnecessary, and at times even distracting (such as Beorn's bees flying at the camera). I'd recommend saving your money and see the film in regular old-fashioned 2D.

Even though the film is highlighted by a cool dragon, and kick-ass female elf, and an enjoyable action sequence, the movie is long, far longer than necessary, spending time introducing a host of new characters - I haven't even mentioned Bard (Luke Evans) or the various characters of Laketown - and one familiar (but mostly unnecessary) face in Legolas, while still relying on several montages of characters walking to and fro throughout the movie.

If these are the kinds of stories he wants to tell, Peter Jackson needs to move to mini-series as he continues to struggle at telling a full story in the limitations of one (or even two) movies. Every single storyline is extended into the upcoming third and final film despite its considerable running time leaving no resolution at all. At least The Two Towers had the good sense not to end halfway through the Battle of Helm's Deep.

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